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Concordia Sisters of St. Joseph

Concordia Sisters of St. Joseph

Loving God and neighbor without distinction: A pontifical institute of women religious of the Roman Catholic Church

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Eulogy for Sister Clarene Kennedy

June 27, 1942 – March 3, 2023

VIGIL: March. 7, 2023, at the Nazareth Motherhouse
EULOGIST: Sister Mary Jo Thummel

Roses were always a flower that spoke to Clarene, maybe because her mother had a rose garden and handed out roses to visitors who came to their house. For that reason, I would like to start with a piece that Clarene wrote about roses, and I quote,

“Roses speak to me of the cycle of life.
Their fragrance calls forth a poignancy in me.
It is the scent of life and death.
Roses are so beautiful and fragile and yet not so.
In the most hot – arid desert lands, you can find them blooming their hearts out.
The thorns provide boundaries and protections for the rose.
To enjoy the beauty – you have to overcome the hard places in life
– the darkness of the thorns.”

Clarene Marie Kennedy, of German, Irish, French heritage, was born to James Joseph and Luetta Marie (Meyers) Kennedy on June 27th, 1942 in McCook Nebraska. She was the youngest of four children. Her siblings were Maryellen, Janice Eileen, and William all of whom have predeceased her. Clarene knew Maryellen as a woman with a great caring and mothering heart. She always said the Maryellen was a second mother to her. Clarene was so glad of the two years that she got to spend in St. Louis after she entered because she and Janice had a chance to grow their relationship and grow close once more. Bill was a true pal in Clarene’s life. A playmate and protective big brother.

Clarene’s dad was of Irish Catholic descent and her mother was Protestant. Since no agreement could be reached about which religion to practice the family was not involved in any organized religion. Clarene said, and I quote, “Though we were not involved in any organized church, I have come to know and appreciate that a deep love and reverence for nature, people, and all things beautiful were deeply instilled in us. We also learned the value and necessity of good hard honest work.” When Clarene was young there was an accident in which a tree branch fell and hit her in the head. Fearing she would die, Clarene’s father asked the Sister Nurse at the hospital to perform an emergency baptism which she did. Even though there was no follow-up at the time, I think the knowledge that she had been baptized Catholic had some influence on her later decisions to become a practicing Catholic.

The family home was located six miles from McCook in Red Willow County. Clarene’s grade school and high school education took place in the Red Willow School District. When she was 14, Clarene’s dad died. Of that incident Clarene says, “The idyllic life of childhood was brought to an abrupt end. I did realize that, as is true of most of life’s changes and dark moments, there often lies the hidden opportunity for growth and transcendence; in retrospect I see this event as such a time.”

Because of her father’s death, Clarene’s mother took a job at the hospital in McCook. A year later, Clarene too joined the hospital work force. The Kentucky Dominicans staffed the hospital and through their presence, Clarene became aware of a growing desire to become an active Catholic and even began considering religious life…of course, she planned to join the Kentucky Dominicans.

In 1961, Clarene started her nurse’s training in Great Bend, Kansas. The Dominican sisters of Great Bend saw her potential and invited her to enter their order, but she remained steadfast to her plans of entering the Kentucky Dominicans. After becoming certified, Clarene began her professional nursing career at the hospital in McCook, Nebraska. She nursed for 26 years in Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Clarene’s nursing career actually lasted over 30 years.

Clarene was an excellent compassionate, caring nurse. One of the doctors here in Concordia, who wasn’t prone to handing out compliments, said he liked working with Clarene because of her native ability as a nurse. He said she had innate abilities that helped her to know what was needed and wanted to bring healing and comfort to her patients. One of our sister nurses who worked with her had this to say, “Clarene was an excellent nurse. I learned much from her. She was an excellent teacher, and sensitive to her patients’ needs, both medically and spiritually and always learning and educating herself to new procedures and medical improvements. She also had a fun sense of humor and was a joy to work with.” Clarene enjoyed the ministry of nursing and the ways in which it broadened her views of life.

It wasn’t until after Clarene moved to Concordia with a teacher friend of hers that she encountered the Sisters of St. Joseph. She became a good friend of Sr. Barbara Berthiaume who was director of pastoral care at St. Joseph Hospital in Concordia. Barb introduced her to many sisters of St. Joseph and to the congregation itself and helped her to see and realize God’s unconditional love for her.

Through these experiences, Clarene realized she didn’t need to wait until she was “perfect” to make the next steps in her life and entered the Sisters of St. Joseph on September 1, 1989. On September 4, 1990, Clarene entered the Novitiate and professed first vows on June 5, 1992 and final vows on June 9, 1995. She said, “Gaining the title of ‘Sister’ was relatively easy, ownership of what that identity means was more difficult. I often felt like ‘Sister imposter!’ ” It was only during her year of Clinical Pastoral Education at Laclede Groves in St. Louis in 1993 that she embraced herself as “Sister” and pastoral care giver and began to claim her own personal power as a woman.

Clarene always had a thirst for more “God knowledge” and hadn’t had an opportunity to take any formal Theology courses. She was delighted when she was offered the opportunity to study for a year at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis. When asked how she saw theology influencing her ministry, Clarene said, “My belief in God’s unconditional love for all of us, will continue to shape not only the way I do ministry, but my entire approach to life. Living out of gratitude for God’s gifts, helps me at the very least to be a pale reflection of that love, and a healing presence to others.” It was this deep belief in God’s unconditional love that led Clarene to easily see God in nature, in people, in the happenings of her life. Clarene had a deep spirituality and many things spoke to her of God. Music was a prayer for Clarene, especially classical music. I saw her many times be totally caught up with the Spirit as she enjoyed a piece of classical music. When I watched Clarene making a rosary, it was like watching a prayer unfold bead by bead. Her ministry and the way she touched the lives of people was an attempt to live Gospel values. She said she always tried to keep Gandhi’s words in mind. “If you don’t find God in the very next person you meet, it is a waste of time to look for God further.”

Though Clarene’s mind faded, her healing love of others and her wonderful sense of humor kept showing up at unexpected times. She always kept living that love, as she remarked in the last two Commitment statements that she was able to write herself, “I want to minister to my sisters by acts of loving kindness and live with a spirit of gratitude each day.” It would seem, Clarene, that you have finished that mission upon earth. May you now
enter the arms of our God who is total love, gratitude, and kindness. You will be missed.